For all my young readers out there, this post is for you. I shared it during this morning’s church service and I hope it will bless and encourage you!
Ever since I was a child I cared about what people thought about me. I was a self-conscious person and a people-pleaser. This character weakness was tested especially in college, when I was no longer homeschooled or in a Christian school.
After graduating from an American school for missionaries called Faith Academy, most of my friends left for the US or Europe after high school, and I had to make friends from scratch. I didn’t know people in college like most students did.
Eventually, however, I had a group of friends I started hanging out with who kind of took me “under their wing.” They were a great bunch of friends – intelligent, beautiful, kind-hearted, and fun to be with. However, they also belonged to a crowd who enjoyed going out to bars and clubs on Wednesday nights and the weekends.
When I first started frequenting bars with my college friends I thought I would never drink alcohol. It didn’t appeal to me. I didn’t grow up in a home where alcohol or cigarettes were common. And the high school I went to didn’t allow students to have either. So I would sit around and watch everybody with some sort of booze in their one hand, most often beer, while they checked each other out and chatted each other up. A lot of it was flirting between guys and girls, or sitting around with your group of friends while some guy treated you all to drinks.
At the beginning, I thought, What am I doing here?! This is a slow way to die, inhaling all this second hand smoke! It was almost intolerable, but I would go anyway, to be with my girl friends. Almost always, I would feel out of place, uncomfortable about connecting with people in an environment that seemed to be the worst place to engage in genuine conversation.
Nevertheless, I wanted to fit in somehow. So I thought, Why not try just a little alcohol? It’s not like the Bible says that drinking is sinful. To be honest I didn’t like the taste at all at first, but participating in the same things my friends did made me feel closer to them, more accepted, and this mattered to me.
The tipping point for me was going on an out of town trip for a football match. Our team went to a bar afterwards to celebrate, and getting a buzz from my cocktails gave me an exhilarating sense of freedom. I felt more confident, more gregarious. I do recall receiving surprised and concerned looks from people who knew me to be the conservative Christian. But I rationalized, “Hey, I can do this. I am still in control and I’m not doing anything stupid.”
I would rarely drink to the point of tipsiness, but there were a few times that I got carried away and did some ridiculous things. One time I kissed a friend in public (someone I would never ever have kissed) while wearing my angel outfit and halo at a halloween party. The irony. My girl friends rushed over to pry me away, scolding our friend when it wasn’t even his fault. Another time, I got drunk and threw up out of a window of a moving vehicle. Yet another time, I danced like an idiot on the ledge of a club that had a lot of lecherous looking old men in it. In Europe, on a month-long trip with my friends (which was a blast), we would be out every night we could dancing with strangers and going out with people we hardly knew.
Thankfully, this season of my life was short-lived. After a while, I thought to myself, Why am I doing these things? Do I really want to be this person? I don’t even like alcohol! Furthermore, I recognized that my root problem was not the actual drinking or nights out, but the desire to have people’s approval.
Amazingly, when I told my parents about my night time adventures and the places I went go to they were NOT reactive. They didn’t scold me or condemn my friends. They didn’t pressure me to live up to the expectations of a pastor’s kid (which would have probably incited me to rebellion). Instead, their style was to spend time with me and ask me questions like, “So why do you like to drink?” They tried to understand my motivations so they could better disciple me. After all, it wasn’t my behavior that was the issue to them. It was my heart. So they prayed faithfully for me. They prayed a lot! And they reminded me that I was accountable to God.
Since they weren’t the kind of parents who were suffocatingly strict and unreasonable, or the kind of parents who micromanaged every choice their kids made, I appreciated and respected their input. More importantly, their talk-less, listen-and-dialogue-more method of mentoring me gave the Holy Spirit the space to speak to me and convict me.
I began to be deeply disturbed about the trajectory I was headed in. I knew I was a follower of Jesus. Yet my motivations revealed that I valued what people thought about me more than God’s opinion of me. Did I really love Jesus with all my heart?
Furthermore if I really loved Jesus then I would live to please him above all else. My goal would be to glorify Him, and to pursue Christ likeness and righteousness. But at that point I couldn’t confidently say that my life inspired others to follow Christ. Living with this dichotomy — professing to love God yet having little fruit to show as evidence, troubled me. I didn’t have peace.
So I went back to the convictions that my parents passed on to me when I was younger — truths that hooked me back into the will of God before I wandered too far off course. I made the decision to honour God and glorify Him. If I truly loved Him, this would be a priority to me. It wouldn’t even be about whether drinking was okay or not. (Sometimes we can be so legalistic and judgmental as followers of Christ, equating spirituality with this image of someone who doesn’t drink, smoke, dance, go to clubs or maybe even movie theaters! Nevertheless, I do believe that everyone who likes to do things like drink or smoke should assess why they do. And if their reasons signal red flags like addiction, dependence, peer acceptance, or remedies for stress, etc…then it may very well benefit them to ask the same questions I had to.)
For me the more important questions were, “How do I live in such a way that people will be attracted to Jesus Christ in me? What does God see when He looks into my heart?” In response, I changed my Wednesday and weekend habits. I stopped going to bars and clubs in order to “fit in.”
This didn’t mean that I lost all my friends either. I loved these girls. I still do. And when we can, we get together for meals or coffee, occasions when we can really connect and talk.
Another, more serious test came when I had my second boyfriend, the same boyfriend who eventually became my husband whom you know as my one and only, Edric Mendoza. We struggled in the area of physical purity. We didn’t have sex but we pushed things to the absolute limit. I knew that I was making compromises that were not pleasing to God, but a part of me also wanted to hold on to Edric’s affections for me. There were moments when I would deceivingly think, this isn’t so bad. It’s not like we are having sex. But I had lowered my standards for holiness and purity by comparing my actions to what “other people are doing.”
Once again, I had to ask myself the same question, Do I really love Jesus more than I love Edric?
Because the struggle with purity continued no matter what tricks we tried to avoid temptation, we were compelled to consider breaking up. Edric also loved God and wanted to do what was right. So we broke off the relationship without any timetable for getting back together. It was one of the most difficult things I had to do and Edric would say the same thing, but it was also one of the best decisions we ever made.
Edric was an idol in my life whom I had to surrender to God. When I did so, my passion for the Lord was rekindled. Prior to this, my struggle with purity had put a wedge and cap on my ability to grow spiritually. Edric also grew deeper in His faith.
Eventually, God allowed us to get married with the approval and blessing of our parents, and after full disclosure to them. By this time our hearts were prepared to love each other the way God called us to. We understood that in any relationship, Christ must be the center. A husband and wife must love Jesus first to love each other the way they should.
Not all love stories may end this same way, but I do believe that when we love God with all that we are He gives us His best in return, which is first and foremost Himself. Everything else is a bonus!
Today I am happily married to Edric. We have five children. And we are serving the Lord as a team and teaching our children to love Him. The stories that I shared are almost twenty years old, but they remain significant because they were turning points in my life, when I made a conscious choice to love God and obey Him over something else or someone else that was important to me.
John 14:21 says, “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.”
We may have to sacrifice and experience challenges as we love God with all that we are, but He promises fullness of joy!
“Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” John 15:9-11 NASB
By God’s grace, the best and sweetest years of my life so far have been those that I have given wholeheartedly to loving, following, obeying, and serving God. When I am tempted to replace this love for God with something else (because struggles still exist), I tell myself, Nothing is better than Christ. And nothing will ever satisfy me more than to seek Him and obey His will!